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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 December 2005, 11:32 GMT
Holmes signs off
By Sarah Holt

Dame Kelly Holmes takes the plaudits after her last race in the UK in Sheffield
Born: April 19th 1970
Events: 800m & 1500m
Coach: Margo Jennings
800m honours: Olympic gold (2004), bronze (2000), World silver (2003), bronze (1995), European bronze (2002)
1500m honours: Olympic gold (2004), Commonwealth gold (1994 & 2002), World silver (1994), World Indoor silver (2003)
Dame Kelly Holmes will probably raise a wry smile when she reflects on the fact that her old nemesis, injury, had nothing to do with her decision to quit athletics.

The 35-year-old double Olympic champion announced her retirement on Tuesday, citing a life-changing event and a lack of motivation as her reasons.

In a career spanning 22 years, Holmes has seen countless chances to convert her potential into medals thwarted by injuries.

But the amiable Holmes has already had the last laugh, proving just what she was capable of when fully fit in a sublime summer in Athens last year.

Her patience finally paid off when she claimed a historic Olympic double by winning gold in the 800m and 1500m.

The former army sergeant joined the ranks of the greats when she became the first Briton for 84 years to achieve the middle-distance double.

But the road to Athens had not been easy, in fact her athletics career was almost prematurely snuffed out.

Holmes showed early promise by winning the English Schools 1500m crown in just her second season.

Kelly Holmes wins the 800m Olympic final in Athens
Holmes expresses her surprise as she wins the Olympic 800m title

But at 18 she turned her back on athletics, preferring to focus on a career in the army.

First she drove trucks before re-training as a physical training instructor.

Holmes' athletics aspirations were all but buried until an army coach suggested she return to the sport.

"I wasn't sure," she admitted. "I was enjoying life, being completely army barmy, and didn't want to start training full-time."

But Holmes shrugged off her doubts, taking to the track again in 1992 with immediate success.

She became national champion over 800m in 1993 and added the 1500m title one year later.

So, Holmes recovered from one false-start but the real test of her mental strength came hand-in-hand with physical weakness.

Her potential has repeatedly been watered down by ill-timed injuries.

1996: Stress fracture saw her finish 4th in the Olympics
1997: Ruptured Achilles ruins her Worlds hopes
2000: A virus affects her Sydney Olympics but she takes 800m bronze
2001: Illness forces Holmes to have stomach surgery
2003: A calf injury upsets her Worlds plans but she wins 800m silver
2005: Achilles and hamstring problems force Holmes out of the European Indoors and the Worlds

A stress fracture saw her trail home in fourth place in the 800m at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Four years later, in Sydney, she battled to bronze on the back of just six weeks' intensive training after being laid low by a virus.

And at the 1997 World Championships in Athens, a ruptured Achilles tendon ended her 1500m hopes in the heats.

With typical grit, Holmes - the overwhelming favourite going into the event - dragged herself across the line, more than 200m behind her rivals.

"Every single year I've said: 'Oh, if only I hadn't had that injury I'd have done even better,'" Holmes admitted.

But rather than become disillusioned, Holmes became more determined to prove just what she could achieve if only her body would let her.

That desire led her to leave behind her roots in Kent in 2002 and switch training bases to South Africa.

There, Holmes drew inspiration from living and working with the world's dominant 800m runner, Mozambique's Maria Mutola, and her American coach Margo Jennings.

"Maria has so much experience, she has won so much that you cannot fail to become a better athlete by being with her," Holmes said at the time.

At the 2003 Worlds in Paris, Holmes took the 800m silver medal behind Mutola, in a tactically astute race by the duo.

Not so in Athens, where a fully-fit Holmes ruthlessly put personal feelings aside to overhaul the defending Olympic champion.

Kelly Holmes receives the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award
Holmes adopts a glamorous image for her role on the prize circuit

Holmes denied after her Olympic zenith that she planned to retire straightaway.

But she embarked on a whirlwind of social engagements to rival her previous strenuous training schedule.

In between collecting the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, writing a book and appearing on chat shows she even found time to turn down a date to a film premiere with Tom Cruise.

Holmes was also determined to inspire the next generation and set up Camp Kelly - a scheme to help eight female junior British internationals.

There were also lucrative benefits to being a double Olympic champion and Holmes sealed numerous sponsorship deals.

That earning potential multiplied as Holmes, with nothing left to prove on the track, vowed to keep on running until the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006.

But some doubted Holmes would have the motivation to keep up the training now that her intrinsic hunger for success had been sated in Athens.

"It's a lot easier being the double Olympic champion, being feted by everybody, than training to be at the top in middle distance running," remarked BBC pundit Steve Cram.

So it was perhaps no surprise that Holmes fell victim to her Achilles heel as she tried to combine training with increasing off-track commitments.

Even a dramatic entrance by helicopter at her last appearance on British soil, the 800m at the Sheffield Grand Prix, could not conceal the fact that Holmes was a shadow of her former self as she limped home in last place.

Holmes is right to go now. There is more to life than athletics - and the prospect of another Commonwealth medal - and she has earned the right to sample all that is on offer for her now.

But the irony that she is saying goodbye to sport at a time when she is free from injury will not be lost on her.

Hero Holmes announces retirement
06 Dec 05 |  Athletics
Holmes makes emotional farewell
21 Aug 05 |  Athletics
Holmes 'should quit in Melbourne'
21 Jul 05 |  Athletics
Holmes out of World Championships
21 Jul 05 |  Athletics
Holmes signals end of GB career
21 Apr 05 |  Athletics
More glory for Athens star Holmes
16 May 05 |  Sport Homepage
Holmes receives honour at Palace
09 Mar 05 |  Athletics
Dame Kelly - an annus mirabilis
31 Dec 04 |  Sport Homepage

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